Outside the large single window the crepuscular light was dying out slowly in a great square gleam without colour, framed rigidly in the gathering shades of the room.
It was a long room. The irresistible tide of the night ran into the most distant part of it, where the whispering of a mans voice, passionately interrupted and passionately renewed, seemed to plead against the answering murmurs of infinite sadness.
At last no answering murmur came. His movement when he rose slowly from his knees by the side of the deep, shadowy couch holding the shadowy suggestion of a reclining woman revealed him tall under the low ceiling, and sombre all over except for the crude discord of the white collar under the shape of his head and the faint, minute spark of a brass button here and there on his uniform.
He stood over her a moment masculine and mysterious in his immobility before he sat down on a chair near by. He could see only the faint oval of her upturned face and, extended on her black dress, her pale hands, a moment before abandoned to his kisses and now as if too weary to move.
The silence was profound. The wave of passion had broken against a murmured sadness, thin air, passing moodby its own accumulated momentum of desire; by its own towering strength sinking into the level repose that seems the end of all things under heaven, but only marks the rhythm of the swelling heart- waves running the circuit of the habitable globe.
He dared not make a sound, shrinking as a man would do from the prosaic necessities of existence. As usual, it was the woman who had the courage. Her voice was heard firstalmost conventional while her being vibrated yet with conflicting emotions.
Tell me something, she said.
The darkness hid his surprise and then his smile. Had he not just said to her everything worth telling in the worldand that not for the first time!
What am I to tell you? he asked, in a voice creditably steady. He was beginning to feel grateful to her for that something final in her tone which had eased the strain.
Why not tell me a tale?
A tale! He was really amazed.
Yes. Why not?
These words came with a slight petulance, the hint of a loved womans capricious will, which is capricious only because it feels itself to be a law, embarrassing sometimes and always difficult to elude.
Why not? he repeated, with a slightly mocking accent, as though he had been asked to give her the moon. But now he was feeling a little angry with her for that feminine mobility that slips out of an emotion as easily as out of a splendid gown.
He heard her saying, a little unsteadily with a sort of fluttering intonation which made him think suddenly of a butterflys flight:
You used to tellyouryour simple andand professionaltales very well at one time. Or well enough to interest me. You had aa sort of artin the daysthe days before the war.*
Really? he said, with involuntary gloom. But now, you see, the war is going on, he continued in such a dead, equable tone that she felt a slight chill fall over her shoulders. And yet she persisted. For theres nothing more unswerving in the world than a womans caprice.
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